Rice, Robin. “Layers and Doodles:
Extremes of subtlety at Helen Drutt.” Philadelphia
City Paper, December 29, 1999–January 5, 1990,
A small group of large vessels by Jill Bonovitz at
Helen Drutt Gallery offers a very personal handling
of the ceramic medium as a vehicle for non-functional
The shapes are clearly those of shallow containers:
wide flattish circular bowls plus one or two with
a deeper cupped and squared-off silhouette. To place
something in the bowls would be to obscure the central
portion of Bonovitz’s “test” –
which, in this case includes actual words and phrases.
Most potters glaze the clay with a chemical solution
which melts like glass when fired. Bonovitz, like
the ancient Greek potters, decorates her work with
colored “slips,” which are solutions of
finely ground cay and water which bond with the clay
body but do not melt at high temperatures.
These complex layers of slip veil her thin-walled
structures and suggest an elaborate quest for expression
– even though the final form that expression
takes remains tentative and sketchy. A piece of which
is edged in burnished greyed lavender slip has an
interior of cool damp-looking white.
Invisible underlayers of other – often darker
– slips provide a nubby, drip-textured, occasionally
cracked surface with records a real evolution of thought.
The supposed functional nature of pottery tends to
remove it from serious consideration as high art while
asserting its right to exist. Bonovitz’s work
embraces this contradiction, and others as well, all
of which are enriching rather than limiting.
The work is not functional. At first glace the large
forms look quite solid because sometimes the walls
tend to curve back upon themselves, in a broad flange
– a thick hollow rim. Closer inspection reveals
the fabric as disturbingly fragile. Often the thin
walls have raggedy drippy-looking edges which could
This vulnerability s especially appropriate, for
a sense of the fragility of human life is on one of
the themes evoked by Bonovitz’s work.
The layered slips with which Bonovitz builds up the
surface in as many as five firings are nearly invisible.
She often draws through the top layer revealing a
dark underlayer, but, as in all questions of life,
much is forever hidden. The pale colors – peaches,
greys, and yellows – are not springlike, but
cool and contemplative, almost distancing. There is
a suggestion of grief, but also of harmonious acceptance
in these colors.
GentleHush is a pale pink bowl, circular in form
with a squared center. Wavelike patterns in grey are
complemented by the barely decipherable scattered
words. “I wake in a large space listening to
the gentle hush of waves.”
Water imagery also appears in Rain, the earliest
work in the series, a grey bowl with tiny sections
of lighter dots. Secretly perhaps contains a landscape
and buildings highlighted in soft pinkish dabs within
its cool lemon borders.